Liz Furlong (left), ACC-RI contract specialist, takes a selfie with her JTL II group prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed the program's format from in-person to virtual. (Photo by Liz Furlong)
Liz Furlong (left), ACC-RI contract specialist, takes a selfie with her JTL II group prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed the program's format from in-person to virtual. (Photo by Liz Furlong) (Photo Credit: Liz Furlong) VIEW ORIGINAL

After nearly a year, two Army Contracting Command-Rock Island (ACC-RI) employees recently graduated from the Army Sustainment Command’s (ASC) Journey to Leadership (JTL) Tier II program, gaining personal and professional development through the comprehensive, challenging process.

Elizabeth Furlong, contract specialist, and Jill Sommer, former procuring contracting officer (PCO) and recently promoted branch chief, completed JTL II on July 16.

JTL was developed by ASC and originally offered it only to its own employees, but was expanded to Rock Island Arsenal (RIA)-based tenant organizations. The program trains future leaders by providing leadership tools, as well as opportunities to learn leadership competencies and enhance interpersonal skills. It is a three-tiered program based on grade, with Tier II training civilian General Schedule (GS) 11-13 employees.

Furlong and Sommer joined 23 other participants from across the world in taking on four one-week classroom-based training sessions; two job shadowing opportunities; three cross trainings; a 20-day developmental detail; interviews with executives; one-on-one coaching sessions; team projects; and leadership book reading assignments.

In the first week, beginning July 22, 2019, the participants gathered as a whole group, and were assigned to four teams that intentionally brought together individuals with differing strengths, weaknesses and time zones, with the intent of having wide representation and diversity within the teams. During that week, speakers presented a handful of projects for the teams to select from.

Out of the projects that were presented, three out of the four teams wanted to do the Rock Island Arsenal Bone Marrow Drive, which was held March 10 in Heritage Hall.

“We tried to come to an agreement on which team was going to be the owners of this project and we all kind of came to the decision - for the first time ever - to take on a second project as a class,” said Furlong. “A lot of the RIA-based participants took ownership of this project since we were local, it was a lot easier for us than those who are offsite, but what was nice was the entire group was able to be there on the day we did the Bone Marrow Drive.”

Sommer’s small team project focused on assisting the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center at Rock Island Arsenal to develop a financial dashboard with its recently mandated use of Qlik Sense software.

“What is Qlik software?” Sommer and her team wondered. “As a team, we had to do some online training and fortunately, the Rock Island Arsenal-based group members were able to attend a Chemical Biological Center sponsored training session on its use and capabilities.”

Once they completed their research, they met with the center’s division and branch chiefs, each of who tracked financial data differently, in order to develop a consistent template for the center and its customers.

Furlong’s team project was to determine a way to increase the reach and update the layout of the Joint Manufacturing and Technology (JMTC) Facebook page.

“Our group came up with a bunch of best practices and solutions on how to increase the amount of engagements, the reach, etc. on the JMTC Facebook page,” said Furlong.

Feeding into each of these projects were the skills that each participant gained through their other coursework.

Furlong, who has worked in field support for the majority of her career, cross trained, job shadowed and held executive interviews with her ASC counterparts that she works with all the time so she could see, from their perspective, how ACC-RI supports them and what they need from her.

As far as her developmental assignment, which are typically done outside of an employee’s organization, Furlong conducted hers at ACC-RI, making the case that since she has been mainly in field support, the opportunity to see what kinds of procurements are being done in other directorates would enhance her contracting knowledge.

Sommer took a different direction, deciding to travel to her customer, the Program Executive Office-Enterprise Information Systems (PEO-EIS), for her 20-day developmental assignment.

“As a PCO, I got to see the program management side of it which was really eye opening,” said Sommer. “I also had the opportunity to create a presentation on best practices for acquisition requirement packages for a lunch and learn and presented it to the PEO-EIS customer portfolio. I also presented this topic to the ACC-RI intern homeroom in March.”

Sommer cross trained with the ASC G8 office and the ACC-RI Business Operations Directorate and did her job shadowing with the ACC-RI branch chief who supports JMTC because she didn’t know anything about the organization, and also shadowed ASC’s deputy commanding officer and executive officer to the deputy commanding officer.

“It gave me the opportunity to learn about other tenants on the island and the importance of their mission and vision and how it actually is intertwined with ACC-RI’s mission and vision because we support them,” said Sommer. “I knew about ASC and JMTC, but I knew nothing about what they did.”

Every JTL session has the built-in challenge of requiring participants to balance their job-related duties with the responsibilities associated with completing the program. This class however, had the additional burden of needing to complete the program in a virtual environment due to COVID-19.

“It’s been kind of crazy with two little kids, 5 and 3, having to work full time, be a mom, teacher, and a professional,” said Furlong. “I was unable to attend the final week of class and graduation, but we have been using MS Teams and in this virtual environment we’ve been living in the past couple of months, I was still able to participate even though I was out of town, because I was able to prerecord my presentation and insert it on the slides and be able to put it on MS Teams.”

Both Furlong and Sommer say there were many takeaways from the program, including starting coursework early so you’re not inundated at the end; internal growth professionally and personally; improving emotional intelligence by listening to others’ perspectives; learning how to build relationships by earning trust; embracing humility; having a sense of humor; and how to think critically.

“One key aspect is you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, otherwise you cease to grow,” said Sommer. “The curriculum was very challenging and comprehensive. We had to get out of our comfort zones, identify the right people, and talk to the right people to succeed.”

Furlong said she wholeheartedly believes that whatever effort someone puts into the program, the more they will get out of it, and encourages anyone considering taking future sessions of JTL II to think about their commitment ahead of time.

“If you go above and beyond the requirement, you’re going to get a ton out of it,” said Furlong. “If you just slack and interview people you already know, you’re just not going to get as much.”

Throughout the class, participants honed in on the Army professionals’ attributes of character, presence, and intellect as well as the Army professionals’ competencies of leading, developing and achieving, which will help them become better people and leaders.

“We all know that leading is a life-long pursuit,” said Sommer. “Just because Liz and I took this class, doesn’t mean we are great leaders, but it’s a great stepping stone toward advancing us personally and professionally.”